by Kolt Day
We are all conquerors in the permanent pursuit of the precious lifeblood of modernity: money. Poverty is absolute in its relativity, a manifestation of a lack of possession; the regrettable part is that this deprivation of essentials is perhaps completely unnecessary now and will only become more unnecessary as time, natural catalyst to hope and creation, rolls on.
Currency has come to exist as one thing: an arbitrary value which is tattooed on a piece of paper or applied to nickel or copper. However, it has come to signify much more. To many, it’s survival; to some, it’s opportunity; to fewer, it’s luxury; to the fewest, power.
It’s the bizarrest reflection that a piece of paper with a number on it can determine whether one lives or dies; that one person can determine how much of this paper another deserves for doing work for them. But strangest of all is that in a world with more than enough food to feed all, clothes to clothe all, water to quench all, homes to house all, and the infrastructure of rapid construction and development to create even more surplus and keep the surplus up, we still allow this arbitrary value to determine whether someone lives or dies; whether someone prospers or not. In other words, we have replaced food and water and housing as essentials. No, those exist and in great number. The essential has become the paper which can purchase. This is the new scarcity. We’ve allowed in a false idol, a covetous mistress, the next oxygen. Money now has become necessary for the continuation of life via the commodification and artificial scarcity of the former essentials.
There are disenfranchised laborers worldwide, and a greater number of people who work upwards of twelve hours per day or upwards of two jobs to make ends meet. These are people for whom society does little. These are the poor Americans who grow up with the option of going deep in debt to even be competitive educationally; these are Eastern farmers and merchants who work extremely hard to produce something which sells for nothing; these are factory workers sweating in the heat waiting for advancement that never comes.
To deny, in a time of such surplus, one the essentials and to put them through a faux obstacle course through which they can obtain continued life is to deny the right to live.
Money has become a god figure. Money has replaced our humanity, our empathy, our preoccupations, our hobbies. Money, arbitrary creation of society, has become a denoter of false worth and conversely an underestimator of true worth; it’s become a status symbol, a tool of oppression, a way of turning one against another. It’s become a beacon of false hope, a promise of false progression. It’s become a first consideration before purchasing food or doing something one is willed to do. Money stands in the way of the human’s natural propensity to create whether it be artistically, as the painter or musician; industrially, as the wood worker; agriculturally, as the farmer; innovatively, as the inventor; or intuitively, as the scientist. If we wish to do something, we must first confer with our god to see if it’s possible. Despite the fact that the practical ability is there, and the means to do such a thing is there, we have to confer with our god for the right to use it, and if our god isn’t available, we’re denied the privilege of creation.
Man returns from whence he came, though perhaps older and wiser than before. Hunter-gatherer societies were largely based off of collective gift economies, not necessarily out of altruism but because that was simply what worked best for the progression of the entire society. If one person’s berry foraging didn’t go well, they wouldn’t starve, but instead they’d have backup. When one person had excess, they wouldn’t gorge themselves but rather it would go for the good of society.
What is strange is that somehow we’ve regressed in morality since the days of hunter-gatherer societies.
Now, in a global society full of excess, one would think that we’d go back to what works best for humanity as a unit. However, we’ve only seen an even bigger obsession with individualism and selfish greed.
Money has played a vital historical role, emerging from barter as a major construct in the comparatively primitive Mesopotamia and Babylonia, solidified by things such as the Code of Hammurabi, though also to rear its ugly head in Ancient China. Money played many different roles, but among these was a common use for the obtaining of commodities. Money was used to purchase grain, cattle, private property, charity, and to pay for services. It was largely a personal exchange. From the vantage point of ancient civilizations, this commodification was both understandable and necessary; there was a genuine amount of supply and demand even for essentials. There weren’t tractors nor were there semi-trucks for transportation; there weren’t gigantic automated farming operations; there weren’t massive water processing facilities; there weren’t incredible assembly line factories that could push out unprecedented amounts of clothing in even an hour. They had cloth woven by hand, a sickle, and a hammer.
We maintained this monetary commodification of essentials, only resting during the age of feudalism, to come quickly back to it after.
In the latter half of the second millennium, something absolutely incredible happened: we made amazing strides in production technology. Slowly, we started developing and producing more things faster. In Marxist theory, this denotes the starting period of alienation from labor. At any rate, more and more of the process became either automatic or far simpler in nature. There has been a constant positive trend towards simple and automatic production ever since the first industrial revolution, exacerbated by the invention of the steam engine and the factory, then by the assembly line, and on and on the story goes as it introduces robots and microprocessors, supercomputers and three-dimensional printers.
This all has led to an unprecedented level of productivity, needless to say.
But since the commodification of essentials and the advent of currency only started due to the need for such a thing, a depictor for lack of a better term of supply and demand in a world with increasing choice and creation as well as increasing demand for food, shelter, and clothing, it only follows naturally that as humanity progresses, money will become deprecated and eventually useless.
In terms of commodified essentials, money already serves as little more than a stopgap between the poor and access to surplus commodity.
But beyond the practical qualms with money, there lies a bigger one: a social degradation that one doesn’t necessarily have to be a starving Kenyan to be aware of.
Money has become the new god.
Our reflections, both on ourselves and upon others, depend massively upon money.
For example, the societal definition of success in America is that one becomes a wealthy professional; but can all become wealthy? No, because wealth is relative. To be wealthy means to have more than others, and if all were to become wealthy, none would be wealthy. To expound, there’s only an absolute standard of wealth when looking at the world at large, and the idea of wealthy in Uganda or India is vastly different than the idea of wealthy in America or the United Kingdom. So the American standard is that all may be wealthy, even though comparatively we are all wealthy; so we have to assume the American standard is to be wealthy as a means of relativity, and such is impossible to attain for everybody.
Does this line of logic not doom, in fact, the vast majority of people who don’t become wealthy to be branded a failure rather than a success? When the terms of success are exclusive, perhaps those aren’t the terms of success that we should live by.
But they are. And this has major impacts on the average family.
There’s such a disparity right now in wealth, and thus such a need for it. So much of it is hoarded and kept away.
Since everything necessary to live has been commodified, we can use money as the measure of worth of life, in a depressing turn of events. The average worker in America makes $1 to the average CEO’s $354. Are we honestly going to imply that any one life is worth three-hundred-and-fifty-four lives? Are we honestly going to align ourselves with that level of psychopathy? If not, then what in the world are we doing?
The sad reality is that in the richest country in the history of the world, we have people who have to choose between their electric bill and their water bill. We have people who are homeless in a land where there are five empty homes for every one homeless person. From reading and hearing about the experiences of the homeless, there are people who have been homeless for months and years looking for even low-wage jobs, unable to find them. We import food from countries far poorer than ours and don’t even make sure that our poor get it, and it goes to waste.
We have fetishized opulence and deified money and created an image of success that simply is not attainable, because in any productive hierarchical society like our own, you will have people above and below. You absolutely need the people below. Not everyone can be a board member or a successful stockbroker or manager of their department or a chief financial officer. We need people to put our cars and fridges and stoves together, we need people to mop our floors, we need people to take care of our elderly in nursing homes, we need people who teach. But those paychecks certainly don’t meet our standard of success.
What results is an underappreciation of everybody in society, and a sense of mistrust amongst anybody who we see as trespassing on our right to our lifeblood paper. The number of times I’ve heard the words “hard-earned” in reference to a salary between fifty and sixty thousand is disgusting. Here’s a newsflash: that money was hard-earned by you, and hard-stolen by your employer. If you produce a hundred dollars of value for them in an hour and they only give you fifteen of it, you’re getting ripped off and stolen from and basically mugged at gunpoint.
But no, we don’t mistrust our employers, we don’t mistrust the people who pickpocket the wealth that we create, we don’t mistrust the people who are hoarding trillions. We turn the mistrust to the people below us and to ourselves. To ourselves because we’re faced with the difficult decisions of living in an expensive society where we have a grain of sand worth of the wealth; because we have to finance anything more than three-hundred dollars and can end up drowning in credit debt; because during the holidays poorer families may have to pick between getting their kids’ Christmas and paying a bill or two; because sixty percent of American families are one surprise $500 expense away from being ruined financially.
And beyond ourselves, we mistrust the majority of people who are on public assistance to make ends meet despite working one or two jobs. We mistrust the single mother of two whose food stamps help feed her family because her husband unexpectedly left. We mistrust the immigrants coming from someplace far more violent or poor than America just trying to get even a taste of the good life, the ones who are often forced to work for slave wages domestically unless they want to be reported and deported. We mistrust the homeless, the vast majority of which are homeless due to mental instabilities they can’t afford to have treated or due to just having their fair share of bad luck.
In some bizarre irony, we get scared of the people who don’t have wealth rather than being angry at the people who do yet keep it all to themselves.
I’ve seen firsthand how poverty can affect the psyche of an American family. I’ve seen economic tensions ruin marriages. So, so many arguments resulting from who will pay what bills, or who will buy groceries. On top of this, I’ve seen depression for which the root cause was purely economic stress, unsure how to make ends meet. Since our idea of success is so exclusive, we see ourselves as failures if we don’t meet it.
There’s a sickening absurdity that in a world with so much, and more every day, and in a country with so much more than everybody else, we’re forced to make these impossible no-win decisions and we’re forced to starve our own people.
Earlier, I spoke on money meaning to many survival. This is how I meant it. The average person absolutely depends on money to survive, however it may come. And when we don’t have this money, when we’re forced to pick between a week of meals and a bill, or decide whether or not to wait to buy a pair of shoes for our children, we lose our confidence. Then if we ask for help, we’re called moochers; if we ask to be paid more, we’re often told to be thankful we have a job at all. It’s a strange conundrum wherein we only hurt ourselves.
And it’s all greed, really. How odd is that? In a world with more than enough, greed is the most prevalent vice. This greed is exacerbated by the absolute necessity that one needs money to live. This makes helping others unthinkable - every penny is a drop of the lifeblood blood, and we’ve only got so much blood to give, after all, and we’re by nature self-preserving.
But one thing that we aren’t by nature is selfish. We are social creatures, and there is no superhuman. We all need help. We all need assistance in one way or another at one point in our life, monetary or otherwise. The absurd notion that everybody should be an individualistic functioning unit goes against everything that we as humans are. We are built upon sharing ideas, not patenting them; helping each other, not helping ourselves. Fifty people working together on common goals will be much more conducive than one-hundred people in constant competition. Competition is not conducive to our nature.
Beyond it being against our nature, there’s one very grim consequence to competition.
As technology gets even better, competition will lead to international tension. It already has; economic competition was a major catalyst to Anglo-German conflict prior to the Great War. The ideological Cold War was economic in nature, based off of the preservation of capitalism in the West. In fact, there are many arguments that the Iraq War had great economic implications and bases. But beyond this, as technology and innovation continue and our minds for international domination expand, tensions will only rise. Consider the amount that military tensions have increased since the development of weapons of mass destruction. ICBMs are still a major fear for many countries, for example.
This ever-increasing military presence leading eventually to a near constant threat of mutual destruction and the end of humanity.
In other words, if capitalism doesn’t starve everybody, it’ll make us kill each other. What is needed, ultimately, is global cooperation rather than competition. It’s ludicrous that as we veer closer and closer to post-scarcity, we still pretend we don’t have enough for everybody.
The take-away, really, is that money is killing us, slowly and surely. We have to phase it out as we reach post-scarcity. Whether we will or not is another question entirely. There are two steps to a better life for all: first, we need to get rid of this idea that we’re all on earth alone and only responsible for what we can make of ourselves; we have to shift away from the notion that we’re beholden to nobody else. And second, we have to demand what’s ours from the elite. Countries that we export jobs to need to nationalize our factories and farms and use them for their own development. We need to stop exerting negative pressures on developing economies. Workers in any and every industry must demand a fair wage adequate to living. Eventually, the people must take control of production, and production should be used for the good of humanity rather than a bottom line.
Much needs to be done, but I for one am sick of every situation in modern life being a prayer to the mint’s printing press. There is enough wealth in the world for all even if we continued to use money as a true denotation of supply and demand. But, there is no sympathy for the fact that sixty-two people have more than three billion people. No sympathy that there’s a 1:354 pay discrepancy ratio between the average worker and their CEO. It’s high time that we stop worshipping the dollar and worship instead what we had for so long: humanity.
Kolt Day is a senior at Alma High School in Arkansas.
Next year, he will attend the University of Arkansas
with the intent of studying psychology or political science.